Kim de Bruijne doesn’t like to wait for things to be discovered. Instead, she aims to discover. So, as a doctoral student at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, she conducted the first toxicity tests of atmospherically aged biodiesel emissions.
“Biodiesel is a really hot alternative fuel item, but no one had looked at its toxicity when emitted into the air,” de Bruijne says. “Is it better for you than regular diesel exhaust?”
Her research exposed human lung cells to biodiesel exhaust in an outdoor smog chamber at two intervals — before sunrise, and after sunset. She conducted the research with Professor Harvey Jeffries, her doctoral advisor, and Associate Professor Ilona Jaspers. They used two different methods to test the effects of diesel fuel on the lung cells, one for gas phase exposures and one for particle phase exposures.
“We found that photochemical aging after sunset increased the inflammatory reaction to conventional diesel but not in biodiesel,” she says. “So far, biodiesel is better than diesel. There’s less toxicity, less cellular death and less inflammation.”
Biodiesel still can cause problems, and de Bruijne wants to influence the motor industry to strive for zero percent emissions. Until then, she will continue making discoveries instead of waiting for them.